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Israelis heed the call of a people in need by aiding Kosovar refugees

NEW YORK, June 13 (JTA) — Sitting and shmoozing in Jerusalem a few months ago, a small group of friends turned their discussion to the events in Kosovo. The 11 men, all children of Holocaust survivors, decided, “We have got to do something because when our parents were in trouble, nobody gave a damn, nobody handed out any help.” So recalls Meir Haber, an Israeli businessman who was in New York recently to discuss with potential funders the nonprofit organization that resulted from that conversation. Today, Ha’amuta L’ma’an Nifgaye Kosovo — or The Nonprofit Society for the Victims of Kosovo — has collected tons of material aid along with “a few hundred thousand shekels” for Kosovar refugees and others in need in the battered Balkan region, Haber said in a telephone interview with JTA. Such activism and generosity attest to the tremendous Israeli humanitarian response to the crisis in Kosovo, both monetarily and through direct assistance to the hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians from the Yugoslavian province. Israeli army doctors have set up medical clinics in refugee camps, and the Jewish Agency for Israel, which is supported by the United Jewish Communities, organized relief flights bringing more than 100 tons of medicine, blankets, tents, clothing and other basic materials to refugees. In Jerusalem, Haber’s organization has collected material goods at a rented warehouse staffed by two clerks, the organization’s only paid employees. The rest of the work — including accompanying shipments to camps in Macedonia — is done by “a few hundred” volunteers, he said. So far the nonprofit has delivered two 20-ton shipments of goods such as mineral water, clothing, medicine, shoes, toilet paper, diapers and blankets directly to refugee camps in Macedonia. He anticipated other shipments will go out, but could not estimate how many. Ha’amuta has worked with the Jewish Agency to absorb a few Jewish families from Yugoslavia who came to Israel since the hostilities heated up in March. Funds have come in through “mouth-to-ear” appeals, he said, and the group also ran a daylong fund-raising appeal on Israeli army radio. But Haber explained that the group has purposefully avoided publicity. “We’re not machers,” he said. “We’re not looking for anything but money or any donations of merchandise in order to ship it over” to the Balkans.
Donors range from individuals to Israeli corporations, such as the Teva Pharmaceutical Industries — Israel’s largest pharmaceutical company, which provided approximately one ton of medicines — and Bank Leumi, which has provided “nice chunks of money” through its workers organization. Haber reports that the volunteers who accompanied the shipments were met with enthusiastic recognition of Israel’s humanitarian response to the situation. “There you hear that Israel is No. 1 in the world.”

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